In 1875 Mary Lincoln, the widow of a revered president, was committed to an insane asylum by her son, Robert. The trial that preceded her internment was a subject of keen national interest. The focus of public attention since Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860, Mary Lincoln had attracted plentiful criticism and visible scorn from much of the public, who perceived her as spoiled, a spendthrift, and even too much of a Southern sympathizer. Widespread scrutiny only increased following her husband's assassination in 1865 and her son Tad's death six years later, after which her overwhelming grief led to the increasingly erratic behavior that led to her being committed to a sanitarium. A second trial a year later resulted in her release, but the stigma of insanity stuck. In the years since, questions emerged with new force, as the populace and historians debated whether she had been truly insane and subsequently cured, or if she was the victim of family maneuvering. In this volume, noted Lincoln scholar Jason Emerson provides a documentary history of Mary Lincoln's mental illness and insanity case, evenhandedly presenting every possible primary source on the subject to enable a clearer view of the facts. Beginning with documents from the immediate aftermath of her husband's assassination and ending with reminiscences by friends and family in the mid-twentieth century, Mary Lincoln's Insanity Case: A Documentary History compiles more than one hundred letters, dozens of newspaper articles, editorials, and legal documents, and the daily patient progress reports from Bellevue Place Sanitarium during Mary Lincoln's incarceration. Including many materials that have never been previously published, Emerson also collects multiple reminiscences, interviews, and diaries of people who knew Mary Lincoln or were involved in the case, including the first-hand recollection of one of the jurors in the 1875 insanity trial. Suggesting neither accusation nor exoneration of the embattled First Lady, Mary Lincoln's Insanity Case: A Documentary History gives scholars and history enthusiasts incomparable access to the documents and information crucial to understanding this vexing chapter in American history.
This extraordinarily helpful book will quickly become the go-to source for scholars and general writers researching Mary Lincoln. Emerson's sure guide through the tangled thickets of shifting historiography will help all of us to write more informed works about Mary Lincoln. A superb reference work. --Richard W. Etulain, author of Lincoln and Oregon Country Politics in the Civil War Era What marks an individual for either greatness or opprobrium? In Mary Lincoln for the Ages, Jason Emerson provides an indispensable guide to understanding how contemporary, scholarly, and popular representations of the controversial first lady have affected what we think we know about her. By placing the popular accounts of Mrs. Lincoln within the larger compendium of work on her life, Emerson challenges readers to discover the sixteenth president's wife from a multitude of angles. --Natalie Sweet, Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum and Lincoln Memorial University Anyone attempting to write a balanced, thorough study of the Lincolns' marriage should begin by consulting Jason Emerson's invaluable bibliography, full of references to little-known sources as well as insightful commentary on familiar ones. --Michael Burlingame, editor of Sixteenth President-in-Waiting: Abraham Lincoln and the Springfield Dispatches of Henry Villard, 1860-1861